Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Exile's Bittersweet Return to Africa

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Exile's Bittersweet Return to Africa

Article excerpt

IN her latest book, "African Laughter," British writer Doris Lessing uses four return visits to her native Zimbabwe to test the accuracy of her memories of growing up there.

She probes the animosities and hopes of the people she meets and finds that irascible whites and bitter blacks have much in common.

Lessing has spent much of her life in exile. She lived in Southern Rhodesia (which in 1980 became independent Zimbabwe) until age 30, when she became a "prohibited immigrant" for her communist activism. After moving to London in 1949, she published novels such as "The Grass Is Singing," short stories such as "African Stories," and poetry, as well as nonfiction.

Yet the dry heartache of exile demanded that Lessing make an attempt at reconciliation with the country that threw her out. Almost three decades later, she found whites and blacks in various stages of panic and exhilaration about their intertwined histories and prospects.

In Lessing's view, both races have a common love of the land, respect for each other, and rich material resources. But they have different perspectives on a brutal war for independence that tore the old order apart. On her first trip back in 1982, Lessing searches through the fading embers of that war to try to understand what people are thinking.

In the process of traveling and interviewing Zimbabweans, she begins to unravel her own closely guarded feelings about the past. With each trip, Lessing's memories are increasingly tempered by the reality she finds. At first, the book seems badly written and edited. Wording is imprecise and the language tortured. As the book progresses, Lessing sounds less like an old Brit on holiday. Choppy writing grows more evocative and vibrant.

By her second trip in 1988, blacks and whites in Zimbabwe have made common cause of their freshly minted country. Peoples' laughter - finding enjoyment in the unexpected - is the hopeful theme of this trip. …

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